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Treasure Island rejects new boat speed rules for Blind Pass

TREASURE ISLAND — Efforts to extend weekend restrictions on boaters using the Blind Pass channel to the Gulf of Mexico collapsed last week when the City Commission rejected consideration of new regulations proposed by neighboring St. Pete Beach.

Waterfront residents on Sunset Beach, as well as residents on the St. Pete Beach side of the channel, want slow speed, minimum wake rules in effect since 1997 for weekends and holidays extended to weekdays.

The St. Pete Beach City Commission has already agreed, but withheld final approval until Treasure Island agreed to pass a similar ordinance.

Tuesday, Treasure Island commissioners refused, despite pleas from its own residents and from St. Pete Beach Commissioner Al Halpern.

"We need to work together," Halpern told the commission, adding that he did not intend to ask his commission to change the boating rules unless both cities could agree.

At issue is the difficulty in enforcing differing rules in the narrow channel dividing St. Pete Beach from Treasure Island. The two island cities currently have the same slow speed, no wake rules for weekends and holidays, but no regulations during the week.

Before the cities coordinated their boating regulations in Blind Pass in 1997, boaters frequently steered closer to the Treasure Island side of the pass to avoid being ticketed by St. Pete Beach marine patrols that enforced that city's tougher speed regulations.

The current rules are a compromise reached after lengthy and contentious meetings that often pitted Treasure Island boaters against waterfront residents.

Now, a decade later, residents hoped the commission would be willing to make the rules stronger.

"I just don't think it is the will of the commission to do this," responded Treasure Island Mayor Mary Maloof after polling commissioners during a workshop session.

"I would be lying if I didn't say this upsets me," responded Commissioner Alan Bildz, who represents Sunset Beach and supports tougher boating regulations in Blind Pass.

Bildz told the commission that Sunset Beach residents "are up in arms" to force boaters to slow down in the Blind Pass channel.

Sunset Beach resident and Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Heidi Horak echoed that contention, urging the commission to take a "more comprehensive look" at the problem.

"The noise and disturbance caused by Jet Skis and some boats is extremely unpleasant, as well as damaging to marine life, sea walls, docks and other watercraft," said Suzanne Melling in an e-mail sent to commission members.

"During the week we have to suffer the parasail operators, Jet Skis, water skiers, cigarette boats, and others speeding up and down Blind Pass. It's dangerous and very noisy," said John Lowe, also a Sunset Beach resident.

In contrast, Dave Winkler, a Sunset Beach resident and Blind Pass business owner, objected to extending boating regulations to weekdays.

"The vast majority of people do not wish to see this ordinance go forward," Winkler said. "The compromise of 1997 is viable and it works. Safety issues are only a minimal problem."

Paradise Island resident and boater Richard Kraus argued against Sunset Beach residents making rules for the entire city. "Recreational boating is a huge element of Treasure Island's allure," he said.

Police Chief Tim Casey told the commission there is little evidence of a major safety issue in Blind Pass.

"When I first did a search (of police records), I thought there was an error, the numbers were so low," Casey said. "There were only 105 complaints over a four-year period. This does not represent a significant problem."

Treasure Island rejects new boat speed rules for Blind Pass 06/24/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2008 8:40pm]
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